Rockets defense stifles Western Michigan 37-24
KALAMAZOO, Mich.-The defense forced six turnovers and recorded seven sacks Saturday night as the Rockets won 37-24 at Western Michigan, improving to 2-0 in the Mid-American Conference.
"We just continue to make big plays," sophomore linebacker Dan Molls said. "It's awesome to see because in the past that's just not how it was. We're starting to win games with our defense."
Molls followed up his strong performance last week with six tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception against the Broncos (1-2, 0-1 MAC).
"We were joking with him all week that we expect a pick or fumble or something every game now," sophomore quarterback Austin Dantin said. "Danny is doing a great job for us. I expect nothing less."
Junior safety Isaiah Ballard led the defense with a game-high 15 tackles, including three for loss, as the Rockets (2-1, 2-0)limited WMU to just 13 total yards rushing on 26 carries.
Senior defensive end Douglas Westbrook recorded two sacks in his return from suspension. Junior defensive tackle Malcolm Riley also had two sacks while freshman lineman Elijah Jones and senior defensive end Alex Johnson had one sack each. Johnson also had a forced fumble and a tackle for loss. He was injured in a collision with sophomore defensive end T.J. Fatinikun in the fourth quarter and left in an ambulance after the game with a fractured bone around his eye and what Beckman described as dehydration and a possible concussion.
"The kids are playing hard and believing in the system," Toledo head coach Tim Beckman said. "They are studying film, learning what they're supposed to do and they are doing it."
In the second quarter, the Broncos started back-to-back drives inside UT's 30-yard line, but the defense forced them into a punt and a turnover on downs.
"We really just buckled down and believed in one another," Molls said. "We work on those situations every day in practice. Our number was called and we responded. It was a great team effort."
The Rockets are 2-0 in the MAC for the first time since the 2005 season when they finished 9-3. That is also the last season Toledo made it to a bowl game.
"It's a beautiful thing to win two straight games, especially in the MAC," senior cornerback Desmond Marrow said.
Marrow was crucial to the victory on Saturday, recording his first two career interceptions on back-to-back drives in the third quarter and returning the second pick 15 yards for a touchdown. He was also second on the team with 10 tackles.
"They did an unbelievable job on defense," Dantin said. "They were the anchor tonight for this team and this win. I give them all the credit in the world. They put us in great situations."
Dantin and UT's offense had their most productive game of the season with 268 yards of offense. Dantin was 11-of-18 for 173 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. He also rushed the ball 18 times for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Dantin and junior wide receiver Kenny Stafford connected on a 73-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, a career long for both players. Freshman running back David Fluellen led the rushing attack with 52 yards on 14 carries and caught two passes for 17 yards.
"We all expect great things from him now and in the future," Dantin said. "I'm excited to see how he progresses as he gets more carries, because I think he could be a very explosive and dynamic guy for us."
Sophomore wide receiver Eric Page was explosive on a 98-yard kickoff return for touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"We needed a big play right there," Page said. "They had a lot of momentum. I couldn't ask for better blocking. [Ballard] made a great block on the kicker."
Page also had two catches for 59 yards and a touchdown and threw an interception on a trick play in the third quarter. It was a deep pass near the end zone intended for sophomore wide receiver Julian Bellinger.
"I should have made a better throw to Julian and got him a touchdown," Page said. "I was excited because I thought I was going to score, but it came up short."
WMU sophomore quarterback Alex Carder knows Page's pain, throwing four interceptions in the game. He completed 43-of-64 passes for 403 yards and a touchdown and was sacked seven times.
"Regardless of whether it's working or not, I need to do better," Carder said. "If my team needs me to throw the ball that much, I need to do it and be successful."
"You can't ask a sophomore to go in there and throw 64 times," WMU head coach Bill Cubit said. "That's hard. It's a lot on his shoulder. He went out there and fought the whole time. The guy's dog tired. He had to drop back too much. We didn't give him any help."
Wide receivers Jordan White, Juan Nunez and Ansel Ponder caught 37 of Carder's passes for 336 yards.
The Rockets play next at Purdue on Saturday at noon.
"I think a lot of people doubted that we could win two on the road," Beckman said. "We're still young, we still make a lot of mistakes, but I'm proud of the way they played."
"It's great to come out and get another victory on the road," Molls said. "That's two in a row. We have good momentum going into the next game at Purdue. We expect to keep it rolling."
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